Iraqi military unable to hold Mosul

MOSUL, Iraq, June 26 (UPI) — Iraqi security forces are unable to maintain order following operations targeting al-Qaida fighters in the northern city of Mosul, officials said Thursday.

U.S. and Iraqi authorities view Mosul, the provincial capital of Ninawa, as one of the last remaining al-Qaida strongholds in Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered a military crackdown in the northern city in May.

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ATF raids Blackwater armory, seizes automatic weapons

Federal agents raided a Blackwater armory Tuesday and seized 34 automatic rifles that the company purchased and stored on behalf of a local law enforcement agency, the Associated Press reports.

Anne Tyrrell, a Blackwater spokeswoman, tells AP that ATF agents searched the Moyock, N.C., facility. The raid came after reports on a deal in which the company paid for weapons that were registered in the name of the Camden County, N.C., Sheriff’s Office.

“The 2005 agreements gives the sheriff’s office unlimited access to the weapons, including 17 Romanian AK-47s and 17 Bushmasters,” the wire service says. “But [Sheriff Tony] Perry said his department has only used the AK-47s in shooting practice at Blackwater and that none of his 19 deputies are qualified to use them.”

Federal law prohibits private companies or individuals from purchasing automatic weapons.

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Barack Obama calls Iran a ‘threat’

Fri, 27 Jun 2008 09:32:07

US presidential hopeful, Barack Obama

US Presidential hopeful Barack Obama calls the Islamic Republic of Iran a ‘threat’ during a word association game in a TV interview.

In an interview on Fox Business channel Thursday, Obama played a word association game, responding in rapid-fire to words thrown at him by the program anchor.

When given the word ‘Iran’ Obama responded by saying ‘threat’. The Illinois Senator also described Republican Presidential hopeful John McCain as ‘honorable’.

Earlier this month, Obama called Iran a threat when addressing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

“The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat,” he told his audience at the gathering.

Obama also stressed that he would always keep the military option against Iran on the table to defend US security and its ally, Israel.

The presumptive Democratic nominee has said he would do everything in his power to go against Iran if it does not stop threatening Israel and continues uranium enrichment.

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Ex-weapons inspector says Iran not pursuing nukes, but U.S. will attack before ‘09

Jun 27, 2008

In 2002, Scott Ritter, the former chief United Nations weapons inspector In Iraq, publicly accused the Bush administration of lying to Congress and the public about assertions that Iraq was hiding a chemical and biological weapons arsenal.

By speaking out publicly, Ritter emerged as one of the most prominent whistleblowers since Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers to The New York Times in the early 1970s.

Ritter’s criticisms about the Bush administration’s flawed prewar Iraq intelligence have been borne out by numerous investigations and reports, including one recently published by the Senate Armed Services Committee that found President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and other senior administration officials knowingly lied about the threat Iraq posed to the United States.

Now Ritter, who was a Marine Corps intelligence officer for 12 years, is speaking out about what he sees as history repeating itself regarding U.S. policy toward Iran and the inevitability of a U.S.-led attack on the country, which he believes will happen prior to a new president being sworn into office in January 2009.

“We’re going to see some military activity before the new administration is sworn in.” Ritter said. But he added that “Iran is not a threat to the United States and Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapons program. That’s documented.” Ritter teamed up with the Los Angeles-based U.S. Tour of Duty’s Real Intelligence, a nonprofit organization that represents former intelligence officials who openly discuss domestic and foreign policy issues. Ritter went on the road nearly a year ago to promote his recently published book, Waging Peace: The Art of War for the Antiwar Movement. But over the past several months, issues related to Iran have dominated his discussions.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Public Record, Ritter said he has been keeping close tabs on the issue for years and continues to approach the issue as if he were still employed as an intelligence officer. He explained why he believes the U.S. is gearing up toward launching a military strike in Iran and how the media has misrepresented a recent report by the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) regarding Iran’s continued enrichment of uranium.

AIPAC

He said one of the reasons he believes Democratic lawmakers have been reluctant to address the issue is the powerful Israeli lobby, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). AIPAC has been pressuring the Bush administration to be even tougher on Iran. The lobby is largely responsible for drafting a resolution calling for stricter inspections and harsher economic sanctions against the country, which is expected to be voted on by the House next week.

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Jailed and Tortured Fighting for Free Speech


A re-enactment of torture in Canberra similar to that experienced by The Epoch Times journalists. (The Epoch Times)

Somewhere in the world, the warm fire crackles as giggling children, adorn their Christmas tree with the colourful lights that William Huang made in jail. A United States living room is coloured with the ornamental flowers he put together, glitter sticking to the sweat on his body, bursting calluses on his hands. Others, somewhere in Europe, chat and munch on the pistachio nuts that he pried open with pliers, or clambered over to use the open toilet, in the bedroom-sized production room that was home to over 20 prisoners.

Surely greater things awaited William when he graduated from China’s prestigious Tsinghua University in July 1999, than slaving seven days a week, for more than 16 hours per day, producing cheap Chinese goods in a Chinese “re-education through labour” center. At least he can choose his destiny now, living and studying in the United States. But memories of electric batons, brainwashing sessions and sleep deprivation don’t easily fade. Nor do the memories of his colleagues who are still in jail.

William Huang, whose Chinese name is Huang Kui, came to America in March this year, with fresh memories of what had happened to the first group of The Epoch Times workers in China, who suddenly disappeared on December 16, 2000. He and around ten others, mostly Falun Gong practitioners, had rented a flat in Zhuhai city, in Guangdong province, which became the underground office for the fledgling online publication. There were people in other cities helping as well, pitching in with time, or money, or both. His job was researching and writing international news articles, while others focussed on weighty domestic issues, especially the state’s full-scale persecution of the Falun Gong meditation practice.

He has no idea how the police found them, but one day without warning more than ten policemen burst in, arresting everyone and seizing all equipment. 48 hours of sleep deprivation and interrogation followed. He and the others were charged with “subverting the political power of the state” because they had published articles exposing the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) human rights crimes.

William was moved to the 2nd detention centre in Zhuhai whilst awaiting sentence, and he was interrogated almost every day for half a year, sometimes until 2am. He was then put to work, laboring at least 16 hours each day making ornamental flowers, Christmas lights, pearl decorations, and prying open pistachio nuts. At first they used pork oil for part of the flower-making process, but the guards soon ordered them to stop, as it would attract bugs that would damage the goods while in transit to the United States. He remembers the cold November days of 2001, when large, painful cracks formed on his hands.

After three months he had still not been sentenced. Lacking any formal appeal mechanism, he refused to eat. After five days without food or water, the guards chained him to a cross made of wooden planks. They pried his teeth open with metal pliers, pinched his nose, held his throat open with chopsticks and threw lumps of rice porridge into his stomach.

Tiger bench torture

From time to time he caught glances of other The Epoch Times workers in prison, and he once had a chance to talk to Zhang Yuhui, who was chief editor when the arrests took place, and who is still in jail. Zhang told him that he had spent 7 days and 7 nights on the “Tiger Bench” torture implement, for refusing to inform on others. While Zhang did not elaborate, this method is known to involve forcing a person to sit with legs extended on a long, thin bench, with ropes tying the knees to the bench. Objects are then forced under the legs to bend the knees the wrong way, causing extreme agony. Zhang had also spent three days tied on a cross, in a contorted position.

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City Pension Funds Lose Billions

Taxpayers Could Be On the Hook

New York City officials are bracing for increased pressure on the budget as the city’s pension funds are reeling from the credit crisis and posting billions of dollars in losses. In the nine months leading up to March 31, the city’s five pension funds lost a total of nearly $5 billion, or 4.4%, according to data from the city comptroller’s office. This is a far cry from projections published as recently as last month, when budget planners assumed the pension system would post no losses.

If those losses are not recovered by the end of the fiscal year, which ends Monday, the city will have to pay out several billion dollars through 2015, with the first payment of $190 million set for 2010.

The government will have to make up the shortfall from the poor performance of the pension funds at a time when it is already suffering from tax revenue losses due to a souring economy.

“In itself, it’s manageable,” the research director for the Citizens Budget Commission, Charles Brecher, said of the pension fund losses. “The fact that it’s going to be combined with revenue shortfalls means that we’ve got serious problems.”

The Teachers’ Retirement System of the City of New York, which has lost 5.06% of its value in the nine months ending March 31, has been the worst performer so far this year. The New York City Employees’ Retirement System, which lost 3.98% in the same period, performed the best. Other pension funds include the New York City Police Pension Fund, the New York City Fire Department Pension Fund, and the Board of Education Retirement System of the City of New York. Numbers for the state pension system are not yet available, a spokesman for the state comptroller said.

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Oil Surges Above $140 to Record as Libya Warns of Output Cut

June 26 (Bloomberg) — Crude oil jumped above $140 a barrel to a record as Libya threatened to cut output, OPEC’s president said prices may reach $170 by the summer and the dollar weakened.

Libya may curb output because of a U.S. law that allows terror victims to seize assets of foreign governments as compensation. OPEC President Chakib Khelil said oil may surge on a European interest rate rise, France 24 reported. Oil, gold and copper climbed today as the dollar dropped because the Federal Reserve gave no signal of higher interest rates yesterday.

“The Libyan comments are helping send us higher,” said Brad Samples, commodity analyst for Summit Energy Inc. in Louisville, Kentucky. “The Libyans are responsible for only about 2 percent of production, but with supplies tight every missing barrel will have an impact.”

Crude oil for August delivery rose $5.09, or 3.8 percent, to $139.64 a barrel at 2:59 p.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange, a record settlement price. Futures touched $140.39 today, surpassing the previous intraday record of $139.89 reached on June 16.

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Is Britain on the slippery slope to dictatorship?

The democracy-loving British public would never put up with dictatorship – or would they?

An 82-year-old former bomber pilot I met in the street the other day said: “Supermen. Ha! If Hitler had come over here we would have given him a proper kick up the jackside.” As Michael White suggests, British people are fond of the myth that they won’t tolerate dictatorships, despite the fact that there were many fascist sympathisers in Britain in the 1930s.

Yes, we do live in a relatively free and secular country – just ask any young Afghani woman studying at a college here for her opinion. But there is also evidence around us that the British government is engaging in repression. And not just in Iraq or Afghanistan, but here in Britain. Perhaps those of us who have lived for a time under dictatorships can spot some of the warning signs:

  • Inconvenient elections are avoided in the name of getting on with the job.
  • Leaders of the opposition are character-assassinated by the state media.
  • Institutions like the legislature begin to lose their independence and traditional role.
  • Citizens are increasingly afraid to speak openly on certain issues.
  • Citizens are observed and monitored on cameras and the government can tap into their conversations at will.
  • Governments can snatch anyone from their homes or off the street and detain them without trial on charges of treason or terrorism.
  • Ethnic and religious minorities are persecuted and are made into scapegoats.
  • The state increasingly intervenes in family and community life in an attempt to control citizens’ behaviour.
  • The focus of discussion moves away from the issues and into a narrative of political rivalries and gossip spreads.
  • Governments use bread and circuses to shut people up and distract attention away from their increasing political impotence.
  • Public spaces for demonstrations are closed down and restricted.
  • Large and ridiculous monuments are built to impress the citizens.
  • Individuals have to carry ID with them at all times and the government holds large amounts of information on every citizen.

How does the British government rate on the dictatorship scale? How close are we to Zimbabwe under Zanu? How far away are we from, say, Norway?

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New York Wants All Bronx Adults Tested for HIV

Community-based organizations, hospitals, and health clinics throughout New York City will voluntarily test every adult resident between the ages of 18-64 living in the Bronx for HIV, The New York Times reports.

The decision, announced by The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, comes on the heels of a recent report which shows New York City residents have the highest rate of practicing unsafe sex, and one of the highest HIV rates in the United States.

The Bronx, the report shows, has been hit especially hard.

In 2005, an estimated 250,000 Bronx residents aged 18-64 had never been tested for HIV, and one in four people with HIV did not know they were infected. The report also shows that one out of every four people that found out they were HIV-positive also found out they had full-blown AIDS at the same time.

The department of health website reports the goal of the initiative is that every Bronx resident learns his or her HIV status and has access to quality care and prevention services.

“The Bronx has the opportunity to lead the city in the fight against HIV/AIDS by being the first borough to have all residents tested,” says Thomas R Frieden, MD, MPH, and commissioner of the city’s health department.

“This will set a model not only for the city but for the whole country,” he says.

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